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Into Thin Air: 5 Planes That Vanished

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Into Thin Air: 5 Planes That Vanished

How can a Boeing 777 just vanish? That seems to be the question on everyone’s mind and has the experts shaking their heads in bafflement. In the early hours of March 8, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 en route to Beijing with 239 passengers onboard, literally disappeared after radio contact was lost approximately one hour after takeoff. Though foul play has been suspected (it has been confirmed that two passengers boarded the plane using stolen passports) no connection has been made to the plane’s disappearance. What has been confirmed, however, is that weather conditions were good, and that the pilots had not reported any problems before the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers.

In light of the recent bizarre disappearance of Flight 370, we decided to take a closer look at other planes that have mysteriously vanished over the years. Some of these disappearances have been solved,and some, still remain unexplained…

5. Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

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 Imagine being pushed to extremes in order to survive? That’s just what the 16 remaining passengers on Flight 571 were forced to do after their plane crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972. The chartered flight set out with a total of 45 passengers and crew onboard, with 12 dying in the initial crash, others succumbing to their injuries soon after, and as if their luck couldn’t get any worse, an avalanche took the lives of eight more on October 29. Under the assumption that there could be no survivors, the search was eventually called off. More than two months passed before the survivors were rescued after two brave passengers made a ten day journey across the Andes and found a Chilean salesman who alerted authorities.

4. Glenn Miller & The Big Bang

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On December 15, 1944, big band musician Glenn Miller was en route to France to entertain the US Troupes stationed there during World War II when his aircraft disappeared somewhere over the English Channel. The plane, a UC-64 Norseman departed from the village of Clapham in Bedfordshire, England as scheduled and was never seen again. Declared as “missing in action” neither the famous musician, the crew or the plane was ever recovered.  Theories over the years include one that the plane was shot down by a Royal Air Force Bomb (an Air Force navigator recorded that he saw a a small plane crashing into the water) while another theory concludes that Miller arrived in France as scheduled, had ‘relations’ with a Parisian escort and suffered a heart attack that the American Military chose to cover up to avoid scandal.

3. Star Tiger & Star Ariel

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 Operated by British South American Airways (BSAA) both of these Avro Tudor IV passenger aircrafts disappeared under similar eerie circumstances less than one year apart. On January 30, 1948 while on a flight from the Azores, Portugal to Bermuda, the Star Tiger carrying a total of 25 passengers and six crew members disappeared while flying over the Atlantic. Battling heavy rains and strong winds the aircraft was blown off course but maintained regular radio contact and was eventually back on track. Approximately 12 hours into the flight at 03:17, Officer Robert Tuck onboard Star Tiger received and acknowledged a radio bearing from a Bermuda operator. This would be the last known communication from Star Tiger. When the officer tried to contact Tuck just just over 30 minutes later at 0350, and received no response he tried once again at 0405 and one last time at 0440 before declaring a state of emergency. The rescue effort lasted five days and the subsequent investigation concluded, “What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery.”

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Similarly, the disappearance of the BSAA Ariel still remains unanswered. On January 17, 1949 approximately one hour into its flight from Bermuda to Kingston, Jamaica, the Star Ariel’s Captain, John McPhee contacted Kingston by radio. It would be the last message anyone would receive from the aircraft. The last known whereabouts of the thirteen passengers and seven crew members onboard was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. The massive search was abandoned six days later on January 23. No debris or wreckage had been discovered.

The disappearance of these two planes along with DC-3 on December 27, 1948 and Flight 19 (Flying Tiger) on December 5, 1945 was the basis for the Bermuda Triangle myth.

2. Amelia Earhart, Electra and a World Flight

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A celebrated aviator to this day, Amelia Earhart made the history books when in 1932, she became the first female to fly solo over the Atlantic and received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress for her efforts.  She continued to astonish over the years, setting (and breaking) records as well as teaching, authoring best-selling books and becoming a member of the National Women’s Party. A celebrity in her own right, Earhart made headlines once again when it was announced in 1936 that she was planning an around-the-world flight. The first attempt on March 17, 1937 proved unsuccessful when during takeoff, the aircraft was severely damaged. The second attempt began on June 1, 1937 with Earhart and her crew of one departing from Miami, Florida and arriving in New Guinea on June 29. At this point, approximately 22,000 miles had been completed with the remaining 7000 miles to take place over the Pacific Ocean and a destination of Howland Island. Sadly, they did not make it to their final destination.

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Due to a combination of error, and miscommunication (Earhart was unaccustomed to the Bendix direction-finding loop antennae on board – new technology for the time) all contact was lost with the Electra approximately eight hours into the flight. The search efforts went on until July 19. With a cost of $4 million, it became knows as the most costly search and rescue operation of its day. Covering more than 150,000 square miles, no part of the aircraft or its crew were ever found. Two theories to explain the disappearance include the “crash and sink” –  the plane ran out of gas and sank into the ocean. The second, “The Gardner Island” theory, hypothesized that  the aircraft, running out of fuel had been rerouted to the Island, (much more visible by air than Howland) landed, and ultimately the pair succumbed to the elements. Recently, in July of 2013, an anomaly that resembled the Electra was detected off the coast of Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner Island). Other artifacts found included a woman’s compact and buttons from a flight jacket. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Discovery are planning a return to the Island later this year for further investigation.

1. Air France Flight 447

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On June 1, 2009 during a scheduled international flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, Air France Flight 447 mysteriously disappeared somewhere over the South Atlantic. It took the rescue team five days to find the aircraft, submerged in the ocean. Of the 228 passengers and crew onboard, only 154 were recovered. Two long years later, the mystery surrounding the crash would finally be answered. In 2011, the plane’s ‘black boxes’ were recovered from the ocean floor and the final crash report released in 2012. It turns out that ice crystals blocked the plane’s air speed sensors. This, coupled with improper reaction on the part of the pilots, resulted in the plane plummeting 38,000 feet in under four minutes – pretty scary stuff. “The actual falling from the sky would have been horrific. This plane fell out of the sky,” said CNN’s former aviation analyst, Richard Quest.

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